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cassette craze chronicles XXIV feat. CLARA ENGEL, CRAWL, HAUNTER and IVAN THE TOLERABLE

Oh boy! With this new bunch I've reached the point, where I should make a decision soon: Buy a second new rack for tapes or just spread my cassettes into every other niche and board in the room?

What did you say? Buy less cassettes? Come on, it's not that much of an addiction! And seriously, who could blame me for not resisting this noble bouquet of albums?

IVAN THE TOLERABLE - Black Water/Brown Earth (2023)

Musically totally unrelated the Ska/Polka/Rock party band Russkaja just called it quits, because they understandably couldn't stand performing with their happy Russian image in the face of the war against Ukraine. Of course I mention this, because the moniker Ivan The Tolerable surely strikes some extra attention in today's climate.
Luckily the music of prolific multi-instrumentalist Oli Hefernan moves within completely different parameters, which don't include any Russian puns or mannerisms, yet instead couldn't voice a more primal and timeless message of universal inner and outer peace. Nothing to feel uncomfortable about now.

This sprawling album, on which Hefernan (bass, guitar and keys) forms a trio with Elsa van der Linden (wind instruments) and drummer Mees Siderius, speaks the language of gorgeously escapist Psychedelic Jazz. The smooth dreaminess of this album is achieved by a multitude of warm intermingling sources. The mixtures of synths, mellotron, saxophone, vibraphone and more on top is just as much key to its effect as the dynamic groundwork of the rhythm section or the natural ambience added via field recordings.

Listening to "Black Water/Brown Earth" conjures the easy playfulness of classic Latin Jazz and Fusion, the uplifting grandeur of Spiritual Jazz and the slightly different elemental esoteric spiritism of New Age Ambient groups like Tengger. Maybe some of its ideas could turn out corny in lesser hands, but what awaits you on these eleven tracks is just constant blissful perfection. If you need a recent reference of quality, I'd put this between the two "super groups" Djinn and London Odense Ensemble.
Yes, it's that good! An absolutely amazing, indeed extremely tolerable statement of modern Jazz. Love love love!

CLARA ENGEL - Their Invisible Hands (2022)

Ok, I just realized that I've used the wrong pronouns in my two previous reviews of singer/songwriter Clara Engel, so let me apologize for that, before we talk about the music here!
It really wasn't some kind of ideologic ignorance, but the sheer ignorance of simply not noticing back in 2021. (Admittedly if I had known, I would probably have preferred English for those write-ups too, because the German language hasn't found a way of being inclusive in a respectful, normalizing and non-clunky  way yet. But with right-wing a-holes having occupied the "critical" side of public dialogue, that's an unnecessary dangerous discussion to have.)

Even though it's also an integral part of the work of artists like Clara Engel, music fortunately is a much easier language to grasp than language.
The golden thread of contemplating, questioning and longing in their delicate pieces - including pure instrumentals like "Ginko's Blues" or "Rowing Home Through A Sea Of Golden Leaves" - should speak to anyone who owns a soul.
Engel finds a way of expressing a very special kind of intimacy by the choice of instrumentation alone. Based on the seemingly small and home-made sounds of cigar box guitars, shruti box, melodica or "found percussion", these songs appear as very private insights.
While there still are parallels to the more minimalist material of artists as different as Chelsea Wolfe, Steve von Till, Einstürzende Neubauten or A Dead Forest Index, it often seems as if Clara's compositions seem to be much less written for the stage, but more like self-rewarding musings. Which somehow makes it especially precious to have the luck to listen to them.

Too much luck may not always be healthy though. As beautiful as the chapters of Clara's "one long continuous song" are each on their own, putting thirteen of those on one album, adding to a total length of about seventy minutes, is much by any standard, even if you consider that they don't all sound the same, but are actually quite distinct from each other.
The bottom line is that when I want to listen to "Their Invisible Hands" attentively, I'll most likely take it one side of the tape a time. It's very good, but also very much.  

CRAWL - Damned (2023)

Well, apart from a couple of similar letters this is quite a different one-person project. Its name may not be overly unique, but I'll be damned if it doesn't fit, because this music is really determined to push you to the ground, paralyse your body and cruelly drag you through the catacombs of desparation in the most obsequious way possible.

Crawl combines Dungeon Synth sounds with excessively horrendous Black Metal screeches and the dirtiest, most hateful Sludge Doom. It's oppressive and exhausting, but somehow also sacral, even with glimmers of beauty. Yet those subtle flashes only serve to show you what you will never deserve. Forget finding inspiration and motivation in music! These four tracks are ultimate hymns of self-loathing. If you party to Primitive Man you'll cry yourself to nightmarish half-sleep with Crawl.

And just to clearify before you read any of this wrong: This monolith is the greatest new Metal release I've heard so far in 2023!
On paper - judging from its ingredients and their intensity - this album should almost be a cartoonish caricature. Yet it never actually crosses that threshold, but always remains an undoubtly heightened, but still completely serious experience. Which makes "Damned" all the more terrifying in all the best ways.

HAUNTER - Discarnate Ails (2022)

And finally some epic Progressive Blackened Death Metal! Even if of all kinds of music I exclusively listened to Death Metal alone, the current renaissance wave would probably feed me with enough quality food to never starve. The Texans Haunter are yet another outstanding example of the many great diverse things you can do within the genre's framework.

Even though this release is a little bit short [insert "EP or album?" argument here], its three tracks all feel huge, not only in size, but also in intensity, heaviness, atmosphere and creativity. Lots of twists, turns and tempo shifts, and each and every of the countless parts is a killer. "Discarnate Ails" is just doing everything right. It's an all-around banger!

I especially love the band's own take on spiraling dissonant Virus / Blut Aus Nord style guitar riffs and the various different extreme vocals, which all have in common that they fucking slay.

You're probably already noticing it: Haunter would give me a very hard time if I wanted to write a longer and more detailed review about them. Of course they provide enough material for one of those - but honestly I just want to bathe in this awesome Death Metal bliss and enjoy it without any need of further dissection.

Bad enough that I missed Haunter last year, when they were also touring Europe for the first time; but I'm glad that I at least at last discovered them now via looking for another release to order from Profound Lore alongside the Crawl tape. This is unspoiled modern Death Metal in perfection.

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